You really need to read the full account of the daydream on which this recording is based to fully “get” what’s happening on this 12th album from Tom Jenkinson (a.k.a. Squarepusher). In short: Jenkinson had a daydream about a show played by a sonically and visually inventive five-piece rock band. Explosions, onstage rivers and a drum kit with a mind of its own are just the tip of the iceberg. He decided to document the experience in music, spending the first half of 2008 laying down the tracks for Just a Souvenir.
Sometimes it’s laugh-out-loud funny. At others it’s agonizingly banal. Such is the nature of any Squarepusher record. “The Coathanger” is sidesplitting stuff. Liquid jazz-funk bass provides a backing for the heavily vocodered vocals of Jenkinson, which exhort us to “behold the coathanger.” A giant fluorescent coathanger is suspended behind his mythical band, and this is his glorious tribute to it. If nothing else, Just a Souvenir should be commended for eulogizing the lowly coathanger, albeit one that starts to glow emerald green.
“A Real Woman” is possibly the closest he’ll ever come to making a structured rock song, even if it is played at breakneck jungle speed with frequent jazzy guitar passages reminiscent of the playing of Jeff Parker from Tortoise. Four tracks into Just a Souvenir, and even battle-hardened Squarepusher fans are likely to be wondering what’s coming next. It starts to feel like Jenkinson has made an unholy pact with Weather Report, Spinal Tap, and a local rock band he’s just befriended down the pub.
Incredibly, “Delta-V” heads further toward rock territory, with Jenkinson soloing and delivering some jerky riffs over wild, tinny drums. He chooses to forfeit vocals for the rest of the album, and after “Delta-V” draws to a close it’s a case of diminishing returns. At times he even edges toward material that will be familiar to seasoned Squarepusher fans, such as the watery treble-speed bass playing of “Potential Govaner.” Jenkinson has always been feted by the indie-rock cognesceti. I remember seeing him opening for Stereolab some time in the late ‘90s — a show where he sat to the side of the stage, playing his bass and shaking his head in a blur of fingers and beard. But never before has he so embraced the rock as he does on Just a Souvenir.
A few breakneck thrash-jazz tracks, occasionally bearing a resemblance to TNT-era Torotise, make way for a distinctly downbeat end to the record. It’s a shame, because Just a Souvenir really could have done without the insipidness of “Duotone Moonbeam” or the languid “Quadrature.” After such a promising start, it sounds like Jenkinson didn’t quite know how to end his musical reminisces.